Black Children in White Families

Hope has been taking swimming lessons in a special needs class. She enjoyed the first few classes and can even keep herself afloat a little bit. Yesterday, she had a problem. She had a new instructor. He was black. Hope has said from the very beginning that she doesn’t like black people and wished she was white. She will talk about it if you insist, but really doesn’t seem to know where the feelings came from.

I took the opportunity yesterday to talk about her feelings in a concrete way. I told her everybody was different and skin color was only one of the ways people could be different. I told her she needed to deal with people, even if there was something she didn’t like about them. I also told her I loved her and she wouldn’t be her if her skin was white and that would make me sad.

I know I missed the boat and our conversation was totally inadequate. I don’t know what I could have done different. Any suggestions?

7 thoughts on “Black Children in White Families

  1. I think that she needs some positive experiences within her race to have more confidence in relationships with black people. The new instructor may just be one way in which this happens. But I do not know for sure what she needs. The conversation didn't seem inappropriate.

  2. This is really tough. When I was in foster care I was in the minority in most, it not all of my placements, and whether it was my perception or the fact most of the white kids who made it into the system were more challenged than the black kids. (Personally I believe that the standard for removing white kids is MUCH higher than it is for black children). Anyway, I found myself assimilating and immersed in the “black culture” of my peers, and housemates. From a long time I wanted nothing to do with white people, culture, identity or what I felt that represented to me, a community who had turned its back to me, and who stole friends from families, because they felt like they were better than and knew better. (Ok, in a general way I still feel that way.) When we bought our first house it was in a predominately black community, because that was where my friends were and I felt most comfortable. My husband is comfortable anywhere, with anyone bless his heart. As a result my oldest child was one of 3 white students out of 600, in her school until she was in 5th grade, and the only white children she was around were at gymnastics or at family functions. I don’t think she had any idea that we were white, or that it mattered until we moved to a more mixed community. Actually during a period of time when they were studying black history month she had nightmares that her gym friends were coming after her and the black coach, because she identified herself as black.I think it is normal to identify with whatever group you are most involved in, and this is one of the complications with inter-racial adoption. It has to be dealt with. I think what you told her is fine, and in my estimation you will have lots of opportunities to address it again…and again. I wish it were easier.

  3. I find the race conversations VERY difficult. My son has a hard time answering the "race" question and is very conflicted about his feelings regarding it. I think your conversation sounds fine, definitely a good starting point. I always like to defer to the experts if I get stumped– I figure I can teach him my values, but I can't teach him how to be a biracial man in America because I am not one. I am blessed with a good family friend who is, and has agreed to spend time with my son discussing such things.

  4. I don't have any answers but it's something with which we struggle, so I was interested to read your comments. I have read Kevin Hoffman's blog and have found it helpful and informative.I'm reminded of the studies where black children were given a choice of a white doll and a black doll, and many of the children chose the white dolls as being desirable, good, or pretty, and named the black dolls ugly or bad.

  5. Children tend to imitate everything their parents do so it's only natural they'd want to look like them as well. So I suspect that working with black people reminds her that she doesn't look like mommy or daddy. Many years ago I was a day-mom to 3 black children and one day the 7 year old told me. "You're black too, you just haven't been in the sun for a while." So maybe an answer would be to focus on the similarities instead of the differences.

  6. My completely-ignorant never-been-there answer is that Hope was taught to hate black by her Texas "mother". I think chances are high that she heard racial slurs and her self-protective efforts to make sense of her world, and to find a way to believe that she wasn't as bad as everyone said she was, was to blame her blackness as the cause (or at least part of the cause) for her mistreatment.Again being mostly ignorant, but I've read that Hispanic Texans can be just as bigoted as white ones. She wouldn't have been protected just because there was non-white skin in her family.I think your talk with her was a start, nothing mis-guided about it. But if my theory is right, then the talks need to go much deeper. I've no clue how to do that. If she is trying to hold onto "I'm OK but my parents hate black" and you won't let her blame the black …

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